Belfast is a city in demand. It offers something for everyone. It has a huge variety of world class attractions for leisure visitors and has become a must see spot for international travellers doing a tour of Ireland. It has the draw of the city centre hospitality and also the proximity to all of Northern Ireland amazing scenic spots. There are enduring reasons for people to visit such as Titanic, Game of Thrones, Golf and our famous culture and troubled past. It’s a city on the up in terms of business and tech with lots of investment opportunities and more and more multinationals setting up in the city.
Airbnb or serviced accommodation works extremely well with the right property in the right location. Belfast gets all sorts of visitors: couples, families, groups of friends, business travellers, construction workers etc. And they all have slightly different needs and expectations for accommodation. This is great because it means all different kinds of properties can be successful if targeted to the right group! Knowing these expectations is key to serviced accommodation property being successful. For example, an apartment with 2 double beds will work great for a family of 4. But 4 builders coming to work on a site in the city will not want to stay there as they don’t like to share beds.
Let’s talk about the size of the property. Generally the bigger the better. A 1 bedroom apartment that sleeps 2 people has to compete with every hotel room in the city. That can be tough. 2 bedroom properties will always work better than 1 bedrooms because they can accommodate larger groups. Houses can work well but a 2 bedroom house will take a lot longer to clean than a 2 bedroom apartment. If you’re hosting 5 or more people you will need a second bathroom.
The finish and standard of the property is also really important. People who use Airbnb and regularly stay in serviced accommodation can have high standards! An absolute must is good Wi-Fi and there are loads of small little additions that guests will love like access to Netflix. You should set out to wow your guests. A “that’ll do” attitude will not work.
The location of the property is a huge factor in determining it’s success. Leisure visitors and tourists want to be close to the action. That means the closer to the city centre the better. Yes these properties are more expensive to purchase than a similar property a few miles out from the city centre but it can be the difference between charging £150 per night and £70 per night. The greatest demand is for city centre so these properties will always be able to charge more.
Another consideration around location is the neighbourhood. Yes it might be a 10 minute walk to the city centre from Shankhill or Falls Road and the property prices might be very attractive but that doesn’t mean it’s a viable option for an Airbnb. Guests want to hear about the troubles in a black taxi tour, not experience it first hand themselves. There still is that perception out there that Belfast is a dangerous city even though it’s one of the safest cities in Europe. New visitors can get nervous about wanting to stay in a “safe area” and often hotels can be seen as the safer/more reliable option.
City centre apartment blocks can seem like the perfect option but they themselves are not without risk. Many management companies of these buildings do not like serviced accommodation happening and can shut it down if they find out. Neighbours can also get annoyed at different people coming and going all the time. Especially if there’s noise every weekend. I know of one apartment building where all the Airbnb key safes outside get regularly super glued shut!
Where to find guests? Airbnb is the big website that everyone has heard of but it’s an extremely crowded marketplace. To give a property the best chance of succeeding it’s important to get it on as many different bookings sites as possible including Booking.com, Expedia etc. These increase the property’s reach hugely as for many people using Airbnb is still seen as a young persons thing to do.
Realistic expectations around pricing is paramount. In my opinion you could put a garden shed on Airbnb and for the right price people would book it. As long as you’re happy with £5 per night then you won’t be disappointed. The problem arises if you think your garden shed can compete with a bigger, better property. Ultimately “Will an Airbnb be profitable in Belfast?” is the real question around when asking does Airbnb work in Belfast. The answer is yes and some of our apartments bring in over £40k income per year but all the factors mentioned above have to be perfect in order for this to happen.
I can’t write an article about whether serviced accommodation is viable in Belfast without talking about the actual amount of work needed to make it a success once you’ve started. It’s basically a mini hotel and every job from a real hotel needs to be replicated. By you! Housekeeping, reception, security etc. It can become all consuming. And just like any hotel if the guests don’t have a good experience then they express their feelings in the form of a negative review. Good reviews are crucial for any serviced accommodation to be successful and bad reviews will make it nigh on impossible!
So to sum up. Belfast has become a really hot destination for a city break. And the tourism industry while still in it’s infancy is going from strength to strength. No one comes here for the weather (thankfully) so it gets visitors all year round, though there is a definite dip in January and February. Be aware of guests’ expectations and also their concerns around safety. Be realistic about pricing and try and offer extra value to stand out in an ever more crowded market.
Pros for managing an Airbnb in Belfast
Amazing draw for visitors in terms of world class attractions.
Piggy backing off Dublin/Ireland’s well established brand.
Attractive to different markets and age groups. Older people interested in the troubles, younger groups interested in GOT. Golfers
Tourism market still in its infancy so lots of further potential to still achieve.
Cheap flights into Dublin
Cons of managing an Airbnb in Belfast
Management companies rejecting it happening in their buildings.
Neighbours and communities not happy with it. Glued lockboxes.
More competitors making it difficult to stand out and secure bookings.
Seasonality. Quieter in winter months.
Guests fear around safety and concern over which area to stay in. Hotels can seem a safer option.
IT’S. HARD. WORK!